Friday, November 30, 2012

Unrestricted Commitment

Conviction hit yesterday as I was sorting through magazines to give away.  A thin newsletter from Far Reaching Ministries fell out of the pile.  I first learned of FRM when my friend Kerry pointed them out.  Her friend Wes leads up this ministry, and it's the real deal.  I flipped open the newsletter and read about men like Jaber Tutu in Sudan and his ongoing daily life on the edge of imminent danger as he pushes forward to share the Gospel in Sudan.  Their aim is to reach the entire country and the entire continent with the Gospel.  It literally means risking their lives every day...among enemy troops, diseases, and conditions that we in our plush houses cannot begin to imagine.  Jaber Tutu says goodbye to his wife and baby girl when he leaves for duty, fully aware that he may not return.  When asked how this life affects him, his response was: "...we know that we will never be comfortable in this life.  And we are not afraid of he who can kill the body but of the One who can kill the soul."

My commitment to Christ falls trillions of miles short of what true sacrifice is.  Am I willing to go anywhere He sends me?  Am I willing to live in circumstances and surroundings that claw at my flesh? Just how far am I willing to say YES to whatever He wants from my life?  Jaber Tutu says yes to a daily possibility of death.  He says yes to unrelenting heat, flies by the hundreds, the daily threat of typhoid, and war situations that I cannot fathom.  Simply put, he has counted the cost, and Jesus is worth more to him than any convenience, any comfort, and even his family.  Conviction rolled in tightly yesterday, and I cannot get Jaber Tutu off my mind today...because his life stands as a testimony of just what it really means to pick up his cross daily and follow Jesus.  He's the real thing.  My faith stood pitiful in comparison.

Where are the leaders like these men in the Chaplain Corps?  Where are the people who will step onto the battlegrounds against the enemy to push the Gospel forward?  Where are the men who will lead from the front, stepping up to fight the enemy from attacking their families?  Wes says in this video that when leaders step forward, people WILL follow.

Jaber Tutu and his fellow Chaplain Corps are true leaders.  They are committed, no matter what the cost.  They make the typical comfortable Christian's commitment look lame at best.  

And what about I give Him my own unrestricted commitment?  WHY NOT?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Brother Leading Brother

Goodnights have been said.  Everyone is tucked in for the night.  And the familiar hushed voices come from the last door on the hall.  Every night older brother reads a children's Bible to younger brother, huddled in a secret meeting beside their nightlight.  Last night they read about God parting the Red Sea, a subject that was still fresh in their minds at breakfast this morning.  This nightly fraternal meeting is especially precious because it was their idea, and my soul thrills to see brother leading brother. All arguments and misunderstandings and he-won't-pick-up-his-toys are put to rest when that Bible comes out each night.  And I pass by their room, my heart full and so very thankful for these little glimpses into God's inner workings in their hearts.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Saturday in the Woods

There's something very special about living in the woods.  I love everything about it...the smells, the sounds, the quiet.  

Long explorations through the forest...hours on end.  They come to the shed, unearth a sled and disappear into the depths of the property to see if the thick bed of dropped leaves will make a good sled run.  Back to the shed they come and go, this time taking a rake.  A secluded wonderland awaits them every time they head to the back of the property.  Today they found the tree marking the very back of the property, and they were explorers in their own right.

Mama joined in the fun, making lunch and wrapping it all up in a blanket.  I had whispered to our youngest son, "When you get hungry, tell your brother and sister that you know of a lady who leaves lunches on her porch for weary travelers."  Content with a secret that only he held, he ran back outside. 

Thirty minutes later, footsteps sounded on the porch, and the explorers had discovered their lunch on the porch swing.  Off they disappeared to have their midday meal in their secret hidden spot in the woods. With a property of only 1.3 acres, they are not truly far away...a stone's toss away from their Daddy working outside...but far enough away to give the feeling of living pioneer life "like they did way back then."

With a quiet house, I settled in to cut out material for the stockings I'm finally going to get around to making this year.  While I cut fabric, our youngest daughter sang and danced to Christmas music.  Her gentle spirit blended with the quiet house.  I cut, she danced, and we both sang Christmas songs.

The stocking-shapped fabric was put away for the next time I get time to work on it, and I asked sweet pea if she wanted to read some books with Mama.  With the big kids playing outside, she soaked up the alone time with Mama.  She pressed in and sighed a contented mmmmm and watched my mouth as I read each word out of one of our favorite books.  Then we'd admire the pictures together and turn the page.

Pumpkin seeds were put in the oven to roast for an hour.

Another load of laundry made its rounds in the machine.

Dinner time approaches, and hungry children come out of the woods in anticipation of what will be on the table for dinner.

The sun slips behind the tall trees, and night falls quickly in these mountains.  The temperature drops, and the inside of the house becomes a retreat for rosy-cheeked children on their way to baths.

Another day in the woods.  These are the moments...the ordinary, simple moments that I want to hold onto and tuck deep into my heart.  These mountains will always hold a special place in my heart, as they have held so many sweet moments of daily living.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Committing All Our Ways to Him

Two lone photos uploaded successfully to Blogger.  Two out of 15 or so that I wanted to upload...all photos from the past few days of Thanksgiving preparation and celebration.  Nothing worked to alleviate the problem of the other distorted uploads.  I gave up and logged off. 

Grumbling on Thanksgiving...  About irritating blogs and ridiculous photo issues...oh, and something about my creative outlet being ripped out of my hands.  Thanksgiving grumblings.  Grumble-givings?  Whatever you want to call it, I was deep in the thick of it when a familiar correction in my spirit stopped me.

Why isn't it enough?  Why aren't those 2 photos that DID upload enough?

I turned those questions around in my mind until I met face-to-face with the answer...  MY PLANS.  I was highly irritated because MY PLANS were altered.  Those 2 photos were not enough because it threw MY PLAN out the window.  It completely altered the blog post I wanted to write.

He reminded me again that it is HIS blog.  My life is HIS.  And HIS plans are to be my plans.

I climbed into bed and pulled my laptop out, sensing that even with only 2 photos, He wanted me to blog about something else.  While my computer powered up, I grabbed my Streams in the Desert devotion book and flipped through November's readings.

Right there, He met me in those pages of that devotional...delivering a hand-carved message right at the exact moment He was teaching me:

"We shall find it impossible to commit our way unto the Lord, unless it be a way that he approves.  It is only by faith that a man can commit his way unto the Lord; if there be the slightest doubt in the heart that 'our way' is not a good one, faith will refuse to have anything to do with it.  This committing of our way must be continuous, not a single act.  However extraordinary and unexpected may seem to be His guidance, however near the precipice He may take you, you are not to snatch the guiding reins out of His hands.  Are we willing to have all our ways submitted to God, for Him to pronounce judgment on them?"

Am I willing to have ALL my ways submitted to God?  All MY plans?  Even the little irritations like when photos won't upload to a blog post (and I had a really good plan for that blog post!)?  Or big things like when our plans for our 4th child were radically altered with a stillbirth?  Do I submit?  Do I trust?

Am I willing to let Him pronounce judgment on my plans?  My plans on little things like what to write...or bigger things like where to live or how to invest my days on this earth?

He's ever-teaching, ever-guiding...even at nearly 1:00 am...  

Friday, November 9, 2012

Entering His Rest

"For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from is.  Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience." --Hebrews 4:10-11

A season of loneliness and hurt and temptation batter the soul.  And we rise up again and again to make things right that are wrong, fighting for relationships...fighting for our country...fighting for our marriages...fighting for our children...fighting for what God has said is best and right.  And we SHOULD fight for those things.  Complacency should have no place at all.  And yet, when all we do is met with walls of silence, walls of rejection, walls of defeat again and again...then perhaps it is time to rest from our work.  Perhaps it is time to believe that He really means what He says when He promises that ALL things will work together for our good.   All things...even this thing that threatens to rip you to shreds...even that person who isn't at all the leader you want...even that relationship that leaves you feeling abandoned and rejected...even that situation that seems hopeless.  He says ALL things work together for our good if we love Him.   Here's the test: DO YOU BELIEVE HIM?  Perhaps it is time that we rest from all the things we so badly want to do to make things right and instead trust HIM to do it.  It could very well be that all our "doing" is getting in the way of God moving in to work in a much higher and more powerful way that we ever could.

We rest by believing...really, truly, honestly believing He is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do.  Can we say we really believe Him?

Hudson Taylor, when in in a season of "agony of soul" said, "I strove for faith, but it would not come; I tried to exercise it, but in vain.  Seeing more and more the wondrous supply of grace laid up in Jesus, the fullness of our precious Savior, my guilt and helplessness seemed to increase.  Sins committed appeared but as trifles compared with the sin of unbelief which was their cause, which could not or would not take God at his word, but rather made him a liar!  Unbelief was, I felt, the damning sin of the world; yet I indulged in it.  I prayed for faith, but it came not.  What was I to do?"

The answer came to Hudson Taylor later, when God removed the scales from his eyes: "But how to get faith strengthened?  Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the faithful one."  "Ah, there is rest!  I have striven in vain to rest in him.  I'll strive no more.  For has not he promised to abide with me--never to leave me, never to fail me?"  "I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this for he, I know,  is able to carry out his will, and his will is mine.  It makes no matter where he places me or how.  That is rather for him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position he must give me his grace, and in the most difficult his grace is sufficient."

For that lonely, battered, heartbroken, tattered, weary soul who is dragging in from some battlefield in life, "let us make every effort to enter that rest"...HIS rest.  Lay it down at His feet, and walk into His rest.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Before He Can Heal Our Land...

The weight of a heavy spirit pressed in the very moment my eyes opened this morning.  Discouragement plowed at the edges of the dawn...the election results still fresh.  The room was dark, and I felt for my Bible.  As my mind replayed last night's news, a great sadness enveloped.  The kind of sadness that squeezes out breath and life.  The kind of sadness that doesn't know how to press forward.  And the day's string of duties lay before me like a jagged mountain range.  How would I lead my children with a cheerful spirit, when my own spirit was in turmoil?  How was I to be peaceful when my country was in such a state of unrest?

A story I had recently read came to my mind.  "There was a queen once, who reigned in troubled days. And every time the country was on the brink of war and the people ready to fly into a panic, she would put on her showiest dress and take her court with her, and go hunting.  And when the people would see her riding by, they were sure all was well with the government.  So she tided over many a danger."  (excerpt from Queen of the Home, by Jennifer M. McBride).  As Mama in this home, I knew that today it was important for peace to flow from me.  And yet, in those predawn hours, it seemed elusive.

I headed downstairs for my morning time alone with God.  I crave this time with Him, as He opens a treasury of secrets and gold nuggets and offers them to me.  Downstairs was cold, and I reached to close the fireplace flue, still opened from our fire last night.  As I leaned to reach the handle, I braced for the cold of the stones on the fireplace hearth.  But instead, they were warm.  I pressed my hand onto them and marveled that they were still retaining the heat from a fire than had burned out many hours before.  A truth swelled in the depths of my being: The hearth is still warm, though everything else is cold and the fire has long since perished.


the floor of a fireplace, usually of stone, brick, etc., oftenextending a short distance into a room.
home; fireside: the joys of family and hearth.

Home. Heart. Hearth.  I see that sign every day, hanging just beside our dining table.  The image of the queen, dressed in her finest and riding out with her court to go hunting burned into my mind.  I was to be that queen. And my husband and children were to wake to a wife and mama who was at peace.  They were to reach out and find that our hearth is still matter how very cold the world feels today.

My time alone with God brought rest and peace, for when all is said and done, no matter who is in the White House, God is enthroned above all.  I will not trust in war horses or election results or Presidents.  My hope is in God alone.  If we truly believed that like we say we do, we could walk peacefully and confidently into the next 4 years of our nation's life.  Today we would be light in spirit, as we take on His yoke, which He says is easy.  We would slip off this burden of our country and exchange it for His burden, which He says is light.

And then there came His divine correction this morning.  Numerous times over the course of the past few years and increasingly as we approached the election, I've heard many people quote 2 Chronicles 7:14, "and My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land."  Praying and fasting became more active as we approached the election.  So, are we not crying out now: "Why hasn't God heard us??  Why hasn't He healed our land?"

When we study the Bible from cover to cover, and when we study an accurate account of our nation's history through the years, we see very clearly that when the people are humble and are serious about obeying God, He protects them and gives them victory.  And when they grow prideful and forget Him, He allows them to be defeated.  Really...go do some digging into history and discover this truth for yourself.  As we were studying both the Bible and the history of our nation, it became almost a game for us to guess what would happen.  When we began to read about a person or nation who was not obeying God, we'd stop reading, and I'd ask, "Okay, so now what do we expect God to do?"  And every time, the answer was the same: When the people were prideful and forgot God, He allowed them to be defeated, captured or experience some other downhill spiral.  Then when we'd read that they sincerely turned to Him with all their hearts, we'd stop reading and ask, "Okay, so now what do we expect God to do?"  And every time, He rescued them, turned the tide of the country, brought victory.  It's easy to spot this in history books or in Bible accounts, but do we spot it right, with the news of the election so fresh and new?

The question came to me yesterday when the election results were coming in on live stream: "Okay, so now what do we expect God to do?"  And, sadly, it was fairly easy to predict, because we are a proud country who has forgotten our God.

Can we lay aside our party bias and see that He has not healed this land because WE have not humbled ourselves..WE have have not turned from our evil ways?  Do we see that WE are the ones truly sinning before our God?  It is far too easy to point our finger at the left wing with their freedom of choice and their definition of marriage.  It is easy to say the country is headed downhill because of "them."  But can we honestly humble ourselves and see our own sin for what it is?  Can we see our double-minded ways, or does pride block our view?

Here are some things that may be very hard indeed to swallow, but press on...  These things faced me, staring me down this morning...a naked, stripping off of all pretense. Can we see that we are quick to point at someone who claims to have freedom of choice after conception, and yet we claim that same freedom when we go to great lengths not to allow conception in the first place?  I know we see the distinction and have good reasons...and perhaps we are right in this issue. But have we ever stopped to ask God what He thinks?  Or do we assume we are correct in claiming freedom of choice over our own bodies?  We point fingers at those in the left wing with a definition of marriage that is no doubt unbiblical, and yet we skirt around Jesus's definition of marriage in Luke 16:18, Matt 5:32, Mark 10:11-12, etc.  I know we believe there is a distinction between "their" definition and "ours." We usually take on the "well, our sin isn't as great as their sin" approach.  But how does God see it?  We are very quick to see the sin of the Israelites when they created a golden calf to worship, and yet do we not put other gods before Him too?  Do we worship the god of politics, trusting in a golden calf to be the thing that will lead our nation to higher ground?  Could we even possibly see the danger of putting politics before our allegiance to the One true God?

Am I the Pharisee who says, "Thank you, God, that I'm not a sinner like those people over there"?  Or am I the tax collector who beats on my breast in repentance?

And could I even begin to imagine LOVING "those" people, the very ones I point an accusing finger at?  I love the Casting Crowns song that says, "Nobody knows what we're for, only what we're against when we judge the wounded.  What if we put down our signs, crossed over the lines and loved like You did?"

Can we for just a moment remove the blinders of party bias and see things as God sees them?  If we are honest, we will admit that we have double standards at best.  This hurts and plucks at some very sensitive areas we'd rather not talk about, but if we sincerely want healing to come to our nation, then we must humble ourselves enough to face some things we don't want to admit.  We are going to have to humble ourselves enough to admit our own sins (our OWN sins...not the ones of the "sinner over there" but rather the sins of this wretch in my skin), pray and seek the face of the only God (not our golden calves, no matter how shiny they may look), and turn from our own sins (the ones we may not even be willing to admit are sins at all).  And, THEN, He will hear from heaven, forgive our sins and heal our land.

It isn't "THEM."  It isn't a left-wing issue or a right-wing issue.  It is a ME-issue.  It is MY double-minded heart.  It is MY finger that is quick to point at the speck in my brother's eye and ignore the plank in my own.  It is MY hypocrisy that He turns from.  It is MY pride that sickens Him.  It is MY sin laid down, nasty and dirty, at the foot of the cross.  It is MY choice to humble MY heart and seek His face.  It is a whole country of individual hearts like mine, and He is waiting for us to turn to Him with all our hearts.  If we don't, how can we expect Him to heal our land?

And, even now, before that healing comes, there's peace in His Sovereignty.  And today that peace will override all the news articles and all the predictions of doom and gloom.  Because my hope is in MY GOD, and HIM ALONE.  That should be all I sinful heart cleansed and fully surrendered to whatever He allows me to walk through...whatever pain or threat or change lies ahead.  His grace is sufficient.  Do we really believe that?  He should be all I need.  And that should be all my family needs.  The hearth is still warm, though the fire has long since died out.  And, with the threat of hostility abounding, this queen rides out in her finest dress and with perfect peace, and her family will sense that all IS well.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Titus 2 Mentors

There are seasons in a mama's life, and I met Rhonda when I was in my spring time...with our 3rd newborn babe in arms.  Rhonda was in her autumn, with 5 children already grown and 4 more still at home.  Because she had "been there and done that" and was still active in the trenches of everyday motherhood, I enlisted myself as one of her "followers."  I learned at her knee like a child learns...listening, watching, asking questions.  Rhonda gathered me up under her wings and let me learn from her life.

Rhonda held her days as an open book for me to study and observe and imitate.  She would send me little emails, telling me what she had planned for dinner or what special thing she was doing for her children that day.  I would listen with the greatest interest and then would swell with a new sense of motivation to do something similar for my own family.  Rhonda's home was warm and cozy and oozed of love, and it appealed to me.  I ached to repeat it in my own home.  All the ins and outs of a million details were shared through her life...  She spoke of honey cakes and son-in-laws, fresh ground wheat and spiritual warfare, Jewish feasts and homemade aprons, painted cabinets and hobby farms, herbal remedies and special recipes.  Rhonda taught me how to redirect disobedient children, how to plan simple meals, and how to respect my husband when it was difficult.  She encouraged me when my days were rough, helped me come up with a new game plan when my children weren't cooperating, showed me a thousand things to make my home inviting,  corrected me when I wasn't putting forth my best, and was an absolute anchor when I lost our 4th child in a stillbirth. She was, in every sense, my Titus 2 mentor.

Titus 2: 4-5 says that older women are to "train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled."

Three years ago, Rhonda went to be with the Lord.  For weeks following her home-going, I found myself  saying NO!  I wasn't yet ready to let her go.  I still had so much to learn about being a good wife and mama.  I still had bad days when I needed her advice.  I still wanted to be under her wing, watching and learning as she modeled all I so desperately aimed to be in my own home.  I wanted (needed!) a living, breathing person who was currently living out motherhood before my eyes so that I could see it in action...the kind of woman who truly embraces her place in the home with passion and creativity and focus.  But she was gone.

It's been over three years since I was able to talk to her.  And, amazingly, in those 3 years, I have yet to meet another Titus 2 mentor.  I'm not saying that I don't know many wonderful godly women, because I do.  And I'm sure that I could find a class or Bible study that focuses on being a good wife and mom.  And I'm incredibly thankful for the wealth of online "mentoring" available, through websites like A Wise Woman Builds her Home  or Above Rubies.  They have been a wealth of information and encouragement to me.

And yet, nothing is quite like having an older mama take you by the hand and say, "Watch" and then live it out before your eyes.  Oh, for just a day to have again with Rhonda!

Yesterday in Wal-mart, right there in the aisle of that busy store, I felt a wave of grief in missing my friend.  Perhaps it was prompted by the umpteenth time I heard a frustrated mama lash out at her child...the tone of voice, the impatience.  And right there in the midst of all those canned goods, a question reverberated in my soul: WHERE ARE THEY?  Where are the older Titus 2 mamas who will walk this thing out in front of the frustrated, tired younger mamas?  Shouldn't they be on every block, in every neighborhood, in every circle of friends?  

There's a dwindling number of wives and mothers who are fully embracing their role in their homes with such passion and energy that it simply SHOWS in their every day lives.  I read something yesterday about how the home is the most empty place during the work days.  There's something incredibly sad about that.  Where are the women like Rhonda who will not only embrace their home and family with full focus but will also allow younger mamas the opportunity to learn at their knee?  If we wanted to, we could find a million mentors for how to be a woman who successfully climbs the corporate ladder.  Should we not also be able to easily find a woman who has instead embraced God's call in Titus 2...the one who is working at home, loving and serving her husband and children as her ministry and highest duty?

I'm so very thankful for the short years I was mentored by a woman who truly was Titus 2 in action....not just a class or a book or a good intention...but a real person who took that call seriously.  And as I crest into the 40's, I realize that I've moved into the summertime of motherhood...and the baton is passing.  I don't feel ready.  I feel far less than I need to be.  I do pray that I will become all God wants in a Titus 2 woman.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A New Beginning...

Welcome to my new little nest on the web.  This is a coming-together of both my orphan ministry blog as well as my personal blog.  It came about in obedience to God's gentle and faithful leading.  He is ever-moving, and I'm ever-following, as the Israelites followed the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire at night.  When He stopped, they set up camp.  When He moved on, they pulled up stakes and went wherever He went.

So here we go...moving forward, following Him.

I awoke today in the dark hours of morning, barely coherent but aware enough that He was speaking.  He told me I had set up "high places."  He had brought this phrase to my attention for many months in my Bible reading.  Many times throughout the Old Testament, you will find that people had set up "high places," which were illegal places of worshipping Yahweh (God).  These were not places of idol worship ("bad") but rather places where people worshipped Yahweh ("good," right?).  But they were UNAUTHORIZED places of worshipping Him (which equals "bad").

He woke me to the fact that I had high places, but before I could think about what those high places might be, I fell back to sleep.

When the sun was rising, I opened to my daily Bible-reading...first day of November.  And, there waiting for me was the rest of His correction.  In 2 Kings 14 again that phrase met me: "Yet the high places were not taken away, and the people continued sacrificing and burning incense on the high places."

Lord, what are the high places in my life?  Where am I sacrificing in unauthorized places?  He brought to mind several things, and I jotted them down in my notebook.  Five things spilled out onto paper, and I lifted up a prayer of repentance.  The last one hit hardest: "Longing for 'important ministry' and minimizing the true ministry He has given me in my home."  I read on, and later in that chapter a sentence stood up off the page in the way that only the Holy Spirit can do.  Only He could take something written thousands of years ago about a man named Amaziah and speak directly to ME through it.  (Can we even begin to grasp the awesome God we serve?!)  There it met me in my spirit...a correction for King Amaziah, a correction for me...  "Enjoy your glory and stay at home."  For Amaziah, it was a correction to not advance his troops.  For me, it was a correction to refocus on the ministry God has given me within the walls of my home.

And the timing was only possible through God...because today I had planned to launch this new blog.  I spent time yesterday setting it up, and today I was going to roll out the first blog post; though, I was not sure what that post would be.  It is a new blog to combine the efforts of my 2 separate blogs...AND to return my focus back to the ministry within my home.  Before my fingers touched the keyboard, there was my God giving me the material to begin.  It is, after all, HIS blog at the end of my fingers.

I begin with His correction to return home.  No, I never left really.  I've been a stay-home mama for 14 years.  But the focus had grown dim.  Now that I no longer have little babies in arms, I was feeling lighter and more portable and a bit zealous for His Kingdom work that lay over the bend...beyond where He had placed me.  That was my "high place" I had set up to worship God, yet it was unauthorized.  I was "sacrificing and burning incense" in an area He had not placed me.

Lord, I remove the high places from my life.  Let me not wander from the true place of worship...hidden here under your pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by be completely content in the camp or on the not long for more than you give me to do and yet to not run from any ministry You place in my path.

Sometimes we have to knock down before building up.  Removing high places makes for a good beginning...the beginning of a new blog, the renewing of the passion He has given me to serve daily in this home, the place of service and worship where He has placed me.

Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening.